Starting as a viral video of the looks and stares a girl casually walking down across Qasr al-Nil Bridge receives, this project turned into a short award-winning documentary of interviews and social experiments about the “epidemic” of sexual harassment in Egypt. In just half an hour, this documentary asks a range of incredibly important and poignant questions; speaking to victims as well as propagators to understand the roots of the problem.
Although the documentary does include haunting footage of gruesome mob attacks in Tahrir Square during the Revolution, the main focus of ‘Banat El Nas’ is the daily street harassment that we all experience. A large portion of the documentary is dedicated to speaking to men as to why they think sexual harassment occurs. Depressingly, but yet unsurprisingly, the nature of the woman’s clothing was brought up time and time again as the key reason for harassment, despite conservatively-dressed women also being victims. What the documentary revealed was that it is often women that are propagating these ideas within their sons. The idea that a woman is being harassed because she deserves to be is carried by both men and women alike.
Speaking to victims of harassment and women involved in organisations and movements trying to combat it, it is clear that often the victims blame themselves. The most moving part of the film came with a tearful interview of a female activist, describing how her experiences have generated an entrenched fear of men. What was so gripping about this interview was the fact it was so relatable, as this fear was something that we have all felt.
Shifting to a narrative of empowerment, the documentary attempts to show how women are combating this problem. Organisations like Harassmap were featured, taking to the streets to discuss with men why harassment happens and powerfully challenging the perceptions that lead to it. From women undertaking self defence classes and prosecuting harassers who have assaulted them, to just showing how simply responding to the comments of harassments can boost confidence, they demonstrate how the power dynamic can be shifted in the woman’s favor.
After witnessing the documentary, you are left with very mixed feelings. The scale and nature of the problem of sexual harassment weighs down, but at the same time you feel better prepared to bear this weight alongside the many powerful, amazing women that are sharing the burden and the many that are fighting to remove it all together. We definitely recommend this film to all women as it will inspire within you a feeling of female solidarity and a deeper appreciation for the problems we face. But we also strongly recommend watching this film with the men in your life, so that they can get an important insight into what life as a woman can entail.